A day tour in Istanbul Turkey
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
A full day of a guided tour had been arranged in marvelous Istanbul Turkey. I had been looking forward to the Spice Bazaar (known as Mısır Çarşısı) in the Eminonu quarter of the Fatih district. This famous covered shopping complex is one of the largest bazaars in the city and has been operating since 1664.
Originally just selling spices, today visitors are spoilt for choice as around 85 small shops now sell spices, food, Turkish delight, jewellery, household items, dried fruit and nuts, souveniers and goods including everyday household items. The air here is filled with the enticing aromas of cinnamon, caraway, saffron, mint, thyme and many other herbs and spices.
When venturing into the spice bazaar be prepared to walk slowly, as the laneways are crowded with shoppers. Many vendors encourage visitors to taste their wares, especially the Turkish delights. This is what I love about these types of markets. You can sample the products and then purchase the exact amount you want, knowing the quality and taste of the goods you are buying.
Various reviews on tripadvisor have said the bazaar is overpriced and overcrowded. I feel that when you visit another country, it is an adventure to experience new places and cultures. We should not compare the new destination to what we are used to, and comfortable with, at home. It is embracing the differences that we find when travelling that makes the journey valuable to us. Yes, the bazaar is crowded, and that is part of the fun. The distinctly Turkish sights, smells, tastes and noises were new to me. It was blissful. I felt so present in the moment that I had to stand still and capture the memory in both my mind and heart. This is something that a mere photo cannot capture, the joy of newness. A picture reminds me of how I felt that day and makes me want to return to experience it again.
The bazaar is electrifying and satisfying and wonderful. This is a place that locals come to buy for their families and homes, and visitors came to look and buy for themselves and to take a piece of Turkey back home.
The rent from the shops pays for the upkeep of the New Mosque. Rebuilt after a fire, the mosque and markets were finished in 1664. I was fortunate to enter one of the smaller mosques at the bazaar. This was the first time I had ever been in one. Women are requested to cover their heads with a scarf, and all visitors leave their shoes outside. The interior was stunning. Large, open and airy, it was bright with natural light. Ornate decorations covered every surface. It is stunningly decorated.
The Ancient Hippodrome
Known nowadays as Sultanahmet Square, the hippodrome was the scene of chariot races in bygone days. The chariots were drawn by four horses, often racing to the death. Wild beast shows, dance performances, hunting scenes and acrobatic shows were also presented here.
It is incredible to believe that in the year 203AD, building started on this track to entertain the 500,000 people who lived here at the time, and to show the supremacy of the Roman Empire over the rest of the world.
Visitors do not see much of the original Hippodrome as it was destroyed during the Ottoman period. Today the square is a park for people to enjoy and it holds interesting artifacts.
A German fountain in the shape of a temple still provides water. Given by Kaiser Wilhelm II to his friend Sultan Abdulhamid II around 1900, it was a symbol of their friendship. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, and the inside of the roof dome is covered in gorgeous golden mosaics.
The square is the home of three large monuments, which is what most tourists come to see.
The Obelisk of Thoedosius is around 3,500 years old! This red granite monolith stands at 19 metres (62ft) tall but was twice the length originally. It broke in half when being transported from Egypt to ancient Constantinople in 390AD. That is why the ancients placed it on a marble base, to make it taller and appear longer. Roman artwork decorates the base and Egyptian hieroglyphics. On all of its four sides there is a column of inscription celebrating Thutmoses III's victory in 1450BC.
The ground today stands 5 metres higher than it did in 390AD, which is why the Obelisk base stands below the street level.
If you have ever been to St Mark Basilica in Venice, Italy and seen the four horse statues, these were originally at the Hippodrome. They were taken to Venice during the Latin Sacking of Constantinople in 1204.
The Serpent Column came from Delphi in Greece around 324 by the emperor Constantine. At 8 metres tall (26feet) the column is made of bronze from the shields of defeated Persian soldiers and represents the bodies of three serpents twisted into one pillar. The snakeheads that were part of the column are no longer on it, although one is available to see in the nearby Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
The Column of Constantine is also known as the Walled Obelisk. Once surrounded by bronze and silver plates, its origins are unknown. In the 10th century it was rebuilt. It stands at almost 35 metres tall. These days it is held together with metal bands, a shadow of its former glory. Over the centuries it has been repair many times due to earthquake and fire damage.
Plan to spend at least four hours of your time to explore the many cherished wonders this palace holds. It is a complex of buildings spread over 700 thousand square metres (146 acres), rather than one large building, and was the home of Ottoman Sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries. These Sultans ruled the world during that time. This was the literally the centre of the world for four hundred years!
From the palace grounds I gazed at the amazing views overlooking the Golden Horn, which is where the Bosphorus Strait greets the Marmara Sea. Built high on a hill, this is one of the highest points nearest the sea in Istanbul, and one of the few places you can see both the European and Asian continents so close to each other.
When walking around Istanbul it is often the little things you see that are quite interesting. Look up as well as around you. Not only are there different architectural features in their buildings, such as different shapes and sizes of windows, decorative motives, but even colourful decorations under eaves.
Another feature I found endearing is the amount of beautifully decorated fountains around the city. The belief is that when you pass away your story stops being written. But when people drink the water or perform ablution five times a day (Islam belief) from your fountain they will pray and remember you. It is a way of your legacy continuing. There are fountains almost every two or three hundred metres in Old Istanbul. Some are truly ornate, made of marble with carved motifs and inscribed quotes. Others are simpler, yet also elegant.
At the end of a busy and thoroughly enjoyable day of sightseeing I took a moment to have a last look at awesome Istanbul by night. It was time to rest before heading off to Gallipoli Turkey the next day.